I think recovery from addiction can be symbolized as a chain made up of many links. There are links for admitting that you have a problem, accepting that you need help, working really hard to make changes, committing to sobriety, etc. It is a day to day, life long process to connect all of the links into a solid chain.
During this last year, my son seemed to have made a good start at accumulating many links in his recovery chain. He admitted that he had a problem. He had finally stopped fighting the rehab process. He was letting the program, counselors, and his sponsor help him. He was staying clean. He had established some goals for the future. He seemed happy.
But gradually, as time went by, he stopped progressing and I realized that these recovery chains probably start off as fragile as paper. It takes time, determination and work for the links to become as strong as metal. Rather than working to make these newly formed links become stronger, though, my son was letting some of them simply break apart.
The most important link—the sobriety link was still holding, but I couldn’t help worrying that it wasn’t as strong as it could have been. Some of the comments that he made every now and then made me wonder if his commitment to stay sober was going to be life-long or temporary. There were vibes that he might be simply biding his time until he was old enough to move out and live on his own so that he could use drugs and alcohol if and when he wanted to. I pray that he will never make that choice.
At first, my husband and I were hopeful about the future because it seemed like our son was enjoying life outside of rehab and getting along with everyone. He appeared to have learned how to manage his feelings in a positive way and was seeing the world as if he had never seen it before. It was incredible and we were so encouraged.
But, after he had been out of rehab for about 5 months, the ability to deal with life in a positive way began to diminish. There was a separation between the link of sobriety and the link of LIVING life. He started to close himself off from the world and when challenges came his way, the skills he had learned to help him cope were suddenly missing.
It became apparent that he was going to act how he wanted to act and do what he wanted to do. This did not include getting along with his parents, or any other people who might care about him, or who might have authority over him. He began letting us know that he didn’t have any respect or concern for us, our beliefs, or our expectations.
It was very hard to watch him go from the point where he had been opening himself up to life--to the point where he declared that the only thing he had in life was his ability to be a jerk. He said that since that is what he was good at--that is what he was going to be.
How does not using drugs anymore leave him with one thing in life—the ability to be a jerk, and nothing else?
What happened to all of the other links in the chain? Why did everything that had been so positive, vanish so quickly?
It was disappointing when the link of goals and dreams for his future deteriorated. I thought for sure that he had a good, solid link when he discovered his passion for photography during the summer. He loved taking pictures, he was good at it, and even had sold some of his work.
When the school year started, it made sense to enroll him in a photography class as a step toward his new goal of becoming a professional photographer. However, the class focused mostly on manipulating digital photos in Photoshop and not as much on learning photography techniques and he did not like it at all. His teacher gave him the idea that as long as you could digitally alter the pictures, you didn’t have to have photographic talent.
I watched his excitement for photography disappear. We tried to keep the fire going, but he had no interest in our help and encouragement. The last time that he took any pictures was a disaster. We offered to take him out on a sunny Sunday to drive through the mountains looking for places to take "reflection pictures" for an assignment. I didn't know what happened as we drove to change his mood, but he became grouchy and managed to find something wrong with every possible picture location. He got very angry at any suggestions that I gave him. He told me that I didn’t know what he needed, and that I should just shut my mouth. He swore at me and said he would either take pictures or not—it was his choice.
After that day, I don’t think he ever took another picture. It was sad that he let his bad attitude and frustration at everything and everyone get in the way of being able to do something that he had a real talent for and he let go of one of his dreams.
Negativity about school and all other aspects of his life increased as the days went on. He gave up on every goal that he set for himself. He was bitter and over-reacted to situations which caused many hurt feelings in our home.
For some reason, he seemed determined break the link of family support. Was he testing us to see if we would stick with him no matter what he said or did? Hadn’t we already proven that? Hadn’t we made it clear that we were giving all we could to be there for him and help him?
But, he was pushing us away. All of the commitments that we had made to each other earlier in the year and all of the good progress that we had achieved so far just didn’t matter to him anymore.
We didn’t know what to do to stop it.